Interview with Jean-Pierre Renard

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Jean-Pierre Renard teaches wine appreciation and tasting at the Ecole des Vins de Bourgogne run by the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne/Bourgogne Wine Board), the entity representing the region’s wine industry, at the Beaune Centre for Continuing Education and the University of Bourgogne. Jean-Pierre has written the BIVB’s tasting notes for all vintages from 1998 and he is frequently asked to speak about Bourgogne wines at conferences and seminars around the world. This week, JJ Buckley’s Wine Specialist had the distinct pleasure of meeting him during a seminar conducted at JJ Buckley’s headquarters.

When asked about how long he’s been working with Bourgogne Wines, Jean-Pierre Renard answered “I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I still remember my first vintages: 1971, 1972, and 1973. Thus, four decades later, I have about 40 years of vintages in my memory. The quality of the current vintages is much better than those of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Of course we had some great vintages in the ‘70’s, like ’71 and ’78 (and ‘76 wasn’t that bad), but that’s about it. The ‘90’s and 2000’s, on the other hand, have been great: 2002, 2005, 2009, 2010 were all fantastic vintages.”

What do you find most intriguing about the 2011 Grand Crus?

As you probably already know, 2011 came after the great 2010 vintage, which was very much appreciated by wine lovers worldwide. It was my feeling that the 2011 vintage was misunderstood, for the simple reason that as a young wine, it showed lots of freshness, acidity and - some would even say - a little aggressiveness. In my opinion, 2011 seems to be quite harmonious: a very fruity, straightforward wine with tremendous potential. It doesn’t have a huge structure or body like the 2010, but still has a strong presence and that’s probably the main quality of this vintage. For example, the Grand Crus can age for 5-7 years without a problem. The benefit of the 2011 vintage is that in a few years you’ll be able to sit down and enjoy it. It already shows finesse and lots of aromas and looks on its way to be a very classic vintage.

How would you define the quality of the 2010 Whites?

2010 is obviously a great vintage, though I am convinced that people have yet to realize its full quality. It shows lots of complexity, fantastic body, is very harmonious, and has a very nice structure. The 2010 provides a combination of both mellowness and acidity. This is a huge vintage that will age nice and slow. It’s going to take a lot longer for this vintage to reach its peak, probably around 10-15, or even 20, years’ time, but when it does, it will be worth the wait. Everyone will go crazy over this vintage, especially the white wines. It is amongst one of the best vintages of the past 15 years.

What interesting wines have you discovered on the “road less travelled” in Bourgogne?

As you know, in our region we have many different types of wines and appellations, but most people concentrate on only the best-known ones. However, if you take the time and are ready to explore a little bit more, you will discover some true gems throughout the Bourgogne vineyard. People should discover the wines of Mercurey, Santenay, and Saint-Véran, for example. They all make very good wines, and they’re extremely affordable. If you go south of the Côte de Beaune you’ll find in the Côte Chalonnaise some not so famous village appellations, but the quality of the wine is absolutely fantastic. Mercurey, for example, is one of the largest appellations from this underrated region of Bourgogne. You can find quite a bit of it on the market. Beaune, another good example, has quite a large production as well. What’s unfortunate is that, most of the time, people are label drinkers: when they see a label they don’t know, they have a tendency to ignore and move past it. Having thought about how to make these appellations more famous, we have found that the best thing is to organize blind tastings; people are often very surprised by the results.

What are you seeing being done to ignite a deeper passion for Bourgogne here in the US?

The US is a very strategic market for Bourgogne wines. More often than not, people drink wines but have no clue how they are supposed to taste, how to compare them to other wines, or what their main characteristics are; we want to change that. We believe that through education, we can give them the advantage of understanding what they are drinking. We want to make sure consumers have a basic knowledge about the region - its classifications, its different types of wines and their characteristics - before they taste the wines themselves. In the past few years, The Bourgogne Wine Board has certified several wine educators. They are our ambassadors and organize seminars, tastings. We rely on them to spread the word across the country and to explain the Bourgogne wines’ DNA in our key markets - the US definitely being one of them. So far, this approach has been working well. As human beings, we tend to like what we know, so the goal is to get everyone better knowing and better understanding our wines. We’ve been touring the US (mostly the West Coast) for the past few days, and in that process we noticed that there is an increased interest in Bourgogne wines. More and more people are focused on Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Here, these wines seem to be very successful. And – maybe - I should be thanking the movie “Sideways” for this!

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the overall quality of 2012?

I would say it’s a 7-8, depending on the appellation. Many journalists have talked about the 2012 vintage, because we had rather difficult weather conditions and a tough summer. When you taste the 2012 wines now, they’re still in barrel and the bottling is just beginning. Many people are saying the vintage is aggressive, and grainy, but I am very optimistic about how the 2012 vintage will evolve. It is surely different from the 2010 one: lots of fruits, a little bit of tannins, not as much roundness and concentration. Overall, if you consider the quality of the wine now, we have a very good 2012 vintage, especially in areas such as the Côte Chalonnaise or the Côte de Nuits. My last word would be to give it a time. Give the 2012 vintage a chance to mature and develop. Time is central in Bourgogne and I am sure that we may have some nice surprises with this vintage.

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